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Managers and Employees Should Not Be Friends

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Time to put a stake in the ground. A line in the sand. To choose a side. Whichever cliché phrase we use, here it is: managers and employees should not be friends.

Usually I start out these blog posts with a bunch of links to other articles that make this same point, or maybe find one or two that say the opposite and raise my objections. But not this time. That’s because if you’re reading sharp writing from Well+Good, a Q+A piece from Forbes online, the old argument-from-personal-narrative (via Fast Company), a classic Refinery 29 collection of horror stories or dos and dont’s list from Workopolis, the answer is basically the same.

They all say pretty much: Yeah, maybe you can be friends with your boss, but be careful.

Work Colleagues

© Flickr user Staffan Cederborg.

This is bad advice. Bosses and workers should not be friends. Cordial—sure. Affable—you bet. Aware of someone’s personal life—totally fine. But your boss should not be your bud.

Obviously, We’re All Human

Because we tend to spend more time at the office than we do at home, people often develop close social bonds with their colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates. That makes sense: we are working together, often under pressure, and sometimes in extremely close quarters.

But still, these connections should not be thought of socialization. That’s not the point. We are there to get a job done, not to become friends. Doing so encourages us to think of our professional colleagues as a family, not a team. But companies—like their counterparts in the world of sports—should be comprised of high-performance players with complimentary skills. Mutual respect is necessary, but personal affinity is dangerous.

Yes, Liking Somebody Is a Problem (at Work)

I know I’m asking for a crazy level of compartmentalization, but a business exists to provide value for stakeholders. That means working. Of course we need to get along and have positive communication, but the more you like a coworker as a human being, the more likely you are to show favoritism.

When we like the people we work with, we tend to develop loyalties. That means we’ll cover for them when they make mistakes (which is unethical) and potentially skirt the rules for them because we care (which could be illegal.) As always, loyalty should be to principles, not people.

The more you care about someone, the more you become aligned with them. In fact there is a principle in law called spousal privilege, which roughly means that a husband or wife cannot be compelled to testify against their partner. No such rules exist for employees!

Where To Make Friends

There’s a great place to find new friends, which is namely, anywhere but work. Join a faith community. Pick up a new hobby. Participate in a sport. Work is about getting work done, and when our relationships push past collegial is when work gets in trouble.

To quote our own Ashley Lee:

Some reading this may say that working remotely, as I do, can be lonely. But, speaking from experience, it’s truly not. I’m a mother of four and have found that, if not for the freedom I have with working from home, I’d never be able to balance work with the chaos that comes with a large family. My priorities are easily manageable because I can stay at home and accomplish all that I need to while still keeping my career.

And That is That

Even though I’m taking a firm stand—managers and employees should not be friends—the last word on this topic isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Human beings are complex, emotional creatures. And we are always going to have emotions at work.

My advice is to try and focus on getting things done when you are on the clock, in the office, at the job site, or visiting the customer. You’re absolutely going to get to know people, but remember why you’re there.

And really, knowing our purpose in any context is a pretty sure route to satisfaction.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
Never say "I hope that's ok." Instead, *ask* if it's okay. - 6 hours ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

Latest posts by Robby Slaughter (see all)

  • Michael A Walkup

    Robby,

    I am going to have to disagree in the most intense of ways. From your post here I couldn’t fathom that you have lead a team, managed for sure but no one ever followed you willingly. With out loyalty we are just band of mercenaries looking out for number one, no successful collaboration with out faith that my coworkers or direct reports will have my back, and zero motivation when I know my boss will punt me or any one on my team under the bus for making a mistake. The tone of you piece has all of condescension of Professor Snape the morning after a wicked bender. If I don’t have the faith of my team I can’t lead them, your proposal will have have a team go above and beyond. You seem to want a team of semi uninvolved C students that never push boundaries with the faith in their leaders that they can try something new.

    I have worked in places where the boss was not ‘friends’ with the proletariat staff and at all four of them where poster children for toxic no-function work places.

    Granted, this is just my opinion and experience but I have never seen anything that would lend it self to the post above… maybe you should have read some dissenting opinions.

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